After he made a surprise appearance at the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday (Jan. 8), Morgan Wallen and the organization have been the subject of scrutiny nationwide.
Wallen joined Big Loud label-mate Ernest during the singer-songwriter’s Grand Ole Opry debut to perform their new collaboration, “Flower Shops.” Ernest is a co-writer on many of the tracks on Wallen’s blockbuster sophomore album, Dangerous: The Double Album.
The performance was Wallen’s first appearance on the hallowed stage since a video surfaced of the singer using the N-word in February 2021. What started as backlash on social media turned into an abundance of media attention from outlets such as The Tennessean, News Channel 5, NBC News, CNN, Fox News, Newsweek, The Hill, Billboard, Rolling Stone, and many more.
Days after the performance, neither the Grand Ole Opry nor Wallen’s team has responded to MusicRow‘s request for comment.
Wallen and the Opry posted photos of his surprise performance Saturday evening, leading country music community members to express their disappointment that he should be allowed back onstage.
— Grand Ole Opry (@opry) January 9, 2022
The Black Opry, an organization led by Holly G that supports Black artists and fans of country music, was at the forefront of the pushback. She tweeted an open letter to the institution relaying her frustration.
Holly pointed out that not only had the Opry tweeted on June 9 of 2020 that racism “has no place at The Grand Ole Opry,” but that the institution had honored the 55th anniversary of Charley Pride‘s debut performance on the hallowed stage just a night before. Pride is one of only two Black Grand Ole Opry members, the other being Darius Rucker.
Grammy-winner Jason Isbell also shared his frustration, saying that he was “real sad for a lot of [his] friends.”
Last night @opry you had a choice- either upset one guy and his “team,” or break the hearts of a legion of aspiring Black country artists. You chose wrong and I’m real sad for a lot of my friends today. Not surprised though. Just sad.
— Jason Isbell (@JasonIsbell) January 9, 2022
Newcomer artist Joy Oladokun added: “Morgan Wallen’s thoughtless redemption tour is the nail in the coffin of me realizing these systems, and this town is really not for us. imma keep making my lil music in my attic, y’all can listen if you want. i don’t know that i’ll do this work forever.”
Other artists who shared their disappointment included Yola, Allison Russell, Rissi Palmer, Will Hoge, and more.
Despite the video of Wallen surfacing in February of last year, the controversial entertainer had one of the most successful albums of 2021, with Dangerous becoming the most consumed album of the year in the U.S., according to MRC data.
Immediately following the incident, Big Loud suspended Wallen’s recording contract, WME dropped him from their talent roster, and he was removed from many country radio playlists and disqualified from major awards ceremonies. But in August, Big Loud sent his new single “Sand In My Boots” to country radio, where it currently sits at No. 7. In November, Wallen announced a 46-date tour, to which he added more dates due to high demand.
Wallen has only done one interview on the matter. In July, during a talk with Michael Strahan on Good Morning America, Wallen said that while he was using the word in a “playful” way, he knew it was ignorant and wrong to use the N-word.
During the same interview, when asked if he thought country music had a race problem, Wallen said “it would seem that way,” but he hadn’t “really sat and thought about that.” See the full interview here.